The passage below very much feels to be an exert from the diaries of a madman. I wrote it live, documenting each game as if it were a standalone part of the update and then found myself arguing with my own thoughts from previous. Essentially, the TLDR version is that I am losing a little bit of engagement with the save because I can’t quite work out what I want to do! The results are great – really great – but I just haven’t quite found pleasure in the build up style that I crave an understanding and a hold of!

We got off to the perfect start against bottom side Sandhausen as Lawrence and his 6’7” frame jumped highest to nod home an Osterhage corner – with this strike somehow being his first of the season. I feel that Bakayoko, the Ivorian who joined my coaching team at Elfsborg before moving on to just join me here in Germany will have a field day working on set pieces with such a dominant aerial force to aim for. Our lead was doubled as a well worked throw in from Adams, via Osterhage was converted neatly into the corner by top scorer Chibozo just after the half an hour mark, leaving me in dreamland. A strong save from a Malone header was then tucked away by the Sandhausen winger as he reacted quicker than Passlack at the back post to cut the deficit in half. Pleasingly, we didn’t allow the momentum to change hands and kept the lion’s share of dangerous possession for the final twenty minutes to secure a big victory for us. 2.12xG from a total of twenty-four shots with three shots against the woodwork, against 0.92xGA from 8 shots is a strong start but I will need to continue to identify defensive frailties that we may have. Whilst this is not a new shape to me, there are concerns – for me – around the effectiveness of our early transition as we bring Passlack into play very early in this phase: and he’s not the ideal creator from deep. I need to consider how to do this: do I want to push the wingback high and wide early on, bringing a more creative player in place or continue with this safer build up that does go through him. With centre backs that aren’t exactly great on the ball, I also need to consider the type of passes that they are playing and the success of them. I like the link up but an average of 92% pass completion with a total of  just sixty-eight of the one hundred and eighty-five (36.8%) going forward tells me that even the added risk of the BPD(d) role still is keeping this lot from ‘launching defence splitting passes’ when it is, naturally, their longer balls that are unsuccessful.

I don’t dislike Felix Passlack – far from it – but he’s just not disciplined enough to play a part in our defensive and early transitional phases, which prompted me into a different shape – a 4231 – against Furth’s 442. The IFB-BPD-HB will form a nice aggressive passing back three in transition and allow me to drop in the more creative Nduquidi, pushing Passlack high and wide. With the new elements of positional play, I’ll see more shapes like this, where Passlack and Kohler are wide right and Osterhage comes out to the left with Chibozo, leaving huge spaces for the Libero, Hajziri. Sadly, he’s also unsuited for this role really so it’s kind of a ‘six of one, half a dozen of another’ situation, although his limited passing will not necessarily catch us out in the same way as the aggressive forward movement of an IWB in the other shape. My reasoning for using a L(s) and a HB(d) is all around creativity and fluidity in movement, despite, essentially, creating the same shape as a traditional defender and a playmaker ahead of him would do. The HB(d) also gives me a more creative man in the first line of the build-up and, despite using Tillman as a SS(a) in this picture, I think it opens up space beautifully for a creative #10 to float around the centre of the pitch and look to receive the ball from the L(s). Also, using Alvarez as a T(a) means I open us up for more third man runs and it was one that brought the first goal, as Tillmantapped in from close range. Youngster Kohler had a penalty saved just after the hour mark but Konig, a late substitute, sealed the points from a nicely worked free kick in injury time. 0.48xGA from nine shots is a great return away from home, even if (penalty aside) we were somewhat profligate, scoring twice from our 2.88xG. All of a sudden, the shape feels less of a pipedream and more of a realistic outcome, even if I’ve just seen it once and against a flat 442 shape.

Our winning streak ended with a draw at Kaiserslautern, where I’d argue that we were unlucky not to come away with three points. As a Villa fan, someone who follows Talking Tactics on X and someone who is currently trying to work out a double pivot in FM, this post really stuck with me and is quite similar to how I’m trying to set up, as seen by this still from the Aston Villa vs Chelsea game where Cash and Moreno are wide and Kamara is the third centre back. I am currently dropping Nduquidi into the backline, in a very Kamara-esque style, which allows Passlack to bomb on, in the same way that Matty Cash does. Despite their goal coming from an already ‘set’ defensive shape, the 1v1 in each defensive area is a worry as is the general issue that I feel this shape creates when there is a transition. Furthermore, you look at the heatmap/touch map of Passlack and Tillman and you’ll see that the WB(a) and IW(s) both occupied the same areas, which massively restricts our entries to the box and our passes in Zone 14.Our lack of central key passes and the fact that virtually none of our ‘passes lost’ come outside of the penalty area widths tells me that there are inconsistencies between my ideology of central play and the actual enacted tactical plan. For me, this is really pleasing to see that, just a game ago, I was nothing but positive about the shape but now, with more depth to my viewing knowledge and different opposition, I am feeling that it’s not quite what I want it to be. It’s not bad. But just not right for me.

With more thought of our 6,8 and 10 being too isolated, I went back to the drawing board for the Karlsruhe tie, using inverted wing backs again against their 442 shape. Bringing the HB(d) into the defensive line, again, allows me more creativity from the back but it was a little bit of a shoe-horn to get Passlack into that role. Lawrence struck early and Tchetchoua scored, on debut, to put us ahead of the side who started the day in fourth. They worked a central overload to get one back but we held on, again winning on xG and danger of possession. A mid-match change from HB(d) to DM(s), adding a L(s) and an IFB(d) instead of a BPD(d) and IWB(s) meant that our pass map was a little skewed but, again, it didn’t quite feel right. This time, it was Tillman who was virtually unknown throughout the game. Whilst these tweaks in roles are all well and good, I really need to settle on a style and build some familiarity with it!

Wurzburger visited and we played with the same shape that the youth team use – the 433 with an IFB, BPD, BPD, IWB backline, allowing a box with the DM(s) and then the CM(a) and CM(s) ahead with Molina – on debut – entrusted with the AP(s) role on the right wing, where he played in the youth setup. We absolutely battered them and, had Tchetchoua not missed a penalty, we’d have won the game. It felt a little nicer and more balanced, but I am not overlooking the fact that our opponents are among the weakest in this division. Our combinations feel stronger but I really think that Passlack’s traits make him move wider and more aggressively than he should!

Still unhappy with the player and role combinations, I played the same shape against Fortuna and escaped with a 1-1 draw despite conceding 4.04xGA – none of it from penalties! We then went on to win 2-0 against Keil with youngsters Molina and Tchetchoua netting early on, which is great for me but, again, I just messed around with shapes – an IWB(a) was used for the first time along with two HB(d) and all kinds of other things…


I need to think about what my core principles are and how I want to play the game. I then need to rethink who I actually have at the squad who is good enough to get into the team and then I need to give it some time, with small match-by-match adaptations, not entire changes in shape! Another X post, below, caught my eye at the perfect time in this tactical minefield that I am going through:


Let’s adopt the Hammarby approach, then…

What do I want the play to look like?

  • Calm build-up through numerical advantages in a 3-2 shape
  • Progress the ball forward vertically through overloads in the centre of the pitch.
  • Get the ball into and around zone 14.
  • Run at the opposition defence and counter attack from turnovers in the middle third.
  • Win the ball back through a solid defensive line rather than committing to duels.

What metrics matter to me?

  • 55% + Possession (league high is 58%)
  • Progressive passes/90 (player high is 6.66 per game)
  • High key pass: pass completed ratio
  • High passes into the final third (league high is 90 per game)
  • Dribbles/90 (league high is 14.64 per game)
  • Open play xA (player high is 0.37 per game)
  • Interceptions/90 (player high is 3.46 per game)

Now I need to look at how I can create that with what I have. Reading this article outlines three basic ways that I can create the bottom half of my box whilst employing a 433 shape, the one that I feel is the most suitable for us when facing defensive turnovers.


Mikel Arteta has used an inverted full-back, Pep Guardiola has finally settled on pushing a centre-back up, Xavi’s Barcelona sees the left-winger invert as an auxiliary No.10

Both of the first two shapes would require an IFB and I think I have that in Adams or, lately through my experimentation, Kozic. When you compare their heatmap, you’ll see that, actually, the latter is more positionally suited to that role as Adams has demonstrated – on numerous occasions – that he’s still a flying wing back when the opportunity arrives. That would then leave a choice of either the Arteta method of Passlack cutting in as an IWB, Hajrizi moving up as an L(s) in the Guardiola method or Tillman or even Molinacutting inside as an AP(s) on the right wing in the Xavimethod.  Next, I have to consider whether I want to create a flat double pivot where my DM and an MC would sit alongside each other or the DM and either the IWB(s) or the L(s) or create a diamond where the DM(s) sits behind a combo of something like a CM(d) and CM(a), with Xavi’sinverted playmaker at the top.

Right now, I think the players at my disposal suit the Xavi method. We are short at left back but I’ve been unable to source an optimal backup and Passlack’s aggressive nature does not lend itself to either an IFB or an IWB. Long term, I’d like to move away from this transitional style, maintaining my playing ethos but moving to either the Arteta or Guardiola method of box creation, as to not sacrifice creativity further up the pitch. With that thought in mind, the next job is to look at how the midfield works. I am, and always have been, loathed to play a shape that the AI cannot use and, as such, won’t move to changing the wide midfielder to a central one. I think I’ve covered most potential bases on how the midfield three could line up, with Molina/Tillman always being the AP(s) on the right wing.


I think that I’d prefer the shape on the left, as I do prefer the box to the diamond as it allows for more space between the lines to move into. The traits of the three players: Nduquidi: dictates tempo, looks for pass, moves ball to right, stays back at all times; Osterhage: gets forward, looks for pass rather than attempting to score and Tillman: runs with ball through centre shouldn’tnegatively impact this idea but my biggest concern is getting Molina (or whoever plays in that AP(s) role) to come centrally and create a box, or, realistically, a pentagon with the T(a) sitting atop it. We need to be making more inroads in zone 14 and progressing the ball through the middle of the park. Our scoring rate is poor and, without the height of a Target Man or the creativity of two wide men, I really need to just focus on creating situations where I have more players who can make things happen!

That being said – results aren’t exactly bad! As you can see, we’re undefeated since I took over and moving up the table. We’re nailed on for another season at this level, at least, where I can really work on getting it right. My thoughts, since moving here and moving to, potentially, the last stop (country wise) within the game, is that I am going to be style over substance because I want to create something beautiful and, if that means another couple of years working through things, then so be it!


With so much focus on getting it right tactically, the transfer window has somewhat passed us by. I was able to move on several high earners, in an attempt to give us some wiggle room but, sadly, none of that went into the actual budget and I was restricted to just the signing of Luca Podlech, a keeper who had played pretty well despite Schalke’s demise over the last couple of years. It was important to find a keeper who is good with their feet and I think he fits the bill pretty well. My plans for the remainder of the season are to find something that works for me whilst I have Passlack – one of my best and most valuable players. At 30, however, I’ll need to keep a close eye on what comes next, particularly as hot prospect Cherkaoui is of the IWB mould. I will also look at collecting some baseline team data so that I can begin to implement the Hammarby approach with both taking into account the match result and the match performance. A bit of a strange update and a much shorter match-spell than I anticipated or really even wanted but I got lost down a rabbit hole!


  • Ben

    Ben has been a long time contributor to the FM community previously on The Dugout and the SI Forums. He is known for his great in-depth tactical analysis and an increasing level of understanding of data led recruitment. His FM saves are always in-depth and he delivers both his knowledge of the game and great storytelling including a talent for squad building, progressing youth players and finding diamonds in the rough. His saves are really popular within the blogging community. He is also the creator of the popular skin “Statman”

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